An Unintentional Bak Chor Mee Weekend
One of my favorite local dishes is bak chor mee, or minced meat noodles. And when I think of bak chor mee, I think of Tai Wah's bak chor mee, which is so mindblowing that it's been a regular on my Top 10 list of favorite places in Singapore. But what has been puzzling to me for so many years was that whenever I got bak chor mee from any other vendor, it tasted almost nothing like Tai Hwa's. This weekend, I think I finally realized why.
It wasn't intended to be a bak chor mee weekend. I initially just needed to run an errand in the vicinity of Lavender yesterday when I figured that we might as well stop by the Crawford Lane location of Tai Hwa (466 Crawford Lane #01-12, 6292-7477) for a quick bite. The good thing was that it was pretty much identical to the Bestway outlet's bowls (that location is closer to my office), complete with its knockout meatballs, fried fish pieces, and of course, deep fried pork lard (evil grin) to give it just the right amount of "oomph" to bring a big fat smile to my face. Mmm...this thing kicks a$$.
Then for whatever reason this morning, we were thinking of mee pok (flat) noodles and pork, so we figured that we'd give this place on Jalan Datoh a try. I'm not sure if we found the right place, as the name, Noi's Mushroom Minced Meat Noodle, wasn't quite the Shun Lu Bak Chor Mee that was supposed to be sitting at 588 Jalan Datoh off Balestier Road...at least, according to my dated version of Makansutra. But it was the only bak chor mee stall at the Teck Seng Coffeeshop, so I suppose that we had to be at the right spot. I guess they refurbished the place?
This was a bit of a surprise to me as there were shrimp sitting on top of this thing, almost reminiscient of prawn noodle, albeit of course without the shrimpy-flavored soup on the side. The presence of those mildly sweet mushrooms and a useless piece of lettuce as a garnish reminded me of Chai Chee's bak chor mee, one that I wasn't particularly fond of. And while the quality of the ingredients here was respectably good (the noodles were perfectly firm, the shrimp were fresh, and the meatballs nearly rivaled Tai Hwa's), it simply wasn't sinful enough (despite the presence of a few slivers of fried lard), and hence less favorable in my book.
And finally, on my way home tonight, I happened to be near Bras Basah Complex, so I stopped by the Parklane Noodle House stall in the Coffee Express 2000 food court. I didn't even realize that they were the Sim Lim Square guys, whom I tried years ago but wasn't particularly blown away with at the time. Yes, their bowl tonight was greasier than Noi's at Jalan Datoh, but it still had those mildly sweet mushrooms on it and lacked the vinegar and pork lard combo that makes Tai Wah rock. To be fair, 8 Days magazine mentioned that they give out some deep fried pork lard on the side here, but I arrived too late and none was too be had. I also didn't realize that they had a bottle of vinegar sitting there on the side if you so chose it. Fortunately, I did see the little raw garlic/chili concoction and pickled veggies.
Anyway, after all of this, I finally realized why Tai Wah stands out so much compared to the others: they don't use those mildly sweet mushrooms, but instead strike upon the other senses with those pieces of salty dried fish, deep fried pork lard, and super tasty meatballs and wontons. In other words, I like Tai Wah because it pursues a more savory and fatty taste rather than mildly sweet. I presume that the latter, complete with those mushrooms, is more of the standard means of preparing bak chor mee, correct? If so, then that's the answer that I was looking for: Tai Wah is in many ways *not* typical, but rather its own unique offering.